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Comfort food and books for comfort

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Christina Stock Photo Bihun soup from Indonesia is easy to make and a light delicious meal with the benefits of boosting one's immune system.

Indonesian chicken soup and the 2020 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

No matter which country you may go to, one recipe is present everywhere there are chickens — the ultimate comfort food: Chicken soup. Of course, every country and culture has its own recipe, depending on what is available.

One of my favorite chicken soups is the Indonesian Bihun soup. It has such a rich flavor, just a little heat and it is one of the few soups that I can eat daily and want to lick my bowl afterward. My adopted aunt/godmother Wendy — who is the best friend of my aunt, and originally from Indonesia — introduced the exotic kitchen and spices to us. Of course, in the 1970s and ’80s, there was no internet. If you were looking for a recipe, you had to depend on the availability of cookbooks or friends who knew how to make the specific recipe you were after.

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The Bihun soup recipe was a rare exception. I had found the soup in the frozen aisle of my grocery shop and just loved it.

Before I get to the recipe, I do have to share with you a funny anecdote with this particular soup and my mom in Germany. Now, to set the stage, my mom is known to never lie. If I asked her a question, I could be sure to get the honest truth. If I surprised her, even better, especially before Christmas because occasionally, I could get the answer to what my gift would be before she had time to think.

I had already moved out at 21 and was living in my bachelor apartment when I introduced my mom to my new favorite frozen dish. Once or twice a week I would meet with her for lunch or dinner at my place. When my mom invited me to join her and some of our friends for dinner, I asked her if I could help her cook or bring something — my mom really didn’t like to cook and had only about three dishes she switched around for special occasions. To my surprise, Mom told me she had no need for my help. Everything was already done. Probably catering, I thought. I arrived with the other guests and we had a fun afternoon until Mom said, time to get to the dinner table. Long story short, we were sitting down, when my mom appeared with a large soup terrine from which she ladled nothing else, but “my” frozen Bihun soup. After tasting it, the friends asked her to give them the recipe and I almost got into a coughing fit when I heard my mom boasting that it wasn’t easily made and she was out of the ingredients but would write it down another day. This is the one and only time I caught my mom fibbing.

This is one of the dishes I missed when I moved to Roswell in 1999. It would take decades for me to finally find a recipe that tastes just like that frozen dish, but, of course, much better being homemade.

Indonesian Bihun soup

Serves four

Ingredients:

2 cups shredded chicken

1/2 package rice sticks or noodles (7 oz bag)

8 oz fresh sliced button mushrooms

8 oz mung bean sprouts

8 oz bamboo shoots

1 carrot chopped

1 red bell pepper chopped

4 or 5 cups water

1 cube chicken broth (2 cups)

3 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp curry powder

2 Tbsp white vinegar or rice vinegar

2 Tbsp Sesame oil

1 Tbsp Thai or Indonesian red chile paste with garlic

3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

If the pulled chicken chunks are too large, cut into finer cubes.

Carrots and bell pepper should have the same size as the chicken. Either sliced or diced.

Put the rice sticks or noodles into a colander and spray evenly with cold water. Check for dry chunks after five minutes and spray more water on it. If the rice sticks are long, cut with kitchen shears into about 2-inch chunks.

Add the water into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the chicken broth cubes. Add chicken, carrots and bell pepper.

As soon as it starts to boil again, add the rest of the ingredients and the rice sticks. Cook on low for an additional six minutes. Add the mung bean sprouts at the last moment and turn off the heat.

Serve right away.

Books for comfort

The 16th annual New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards finalists and winners have been announced. According to the organizer, the New Mexico Book Co-op, this year 800 entries came in to compete for the awards. Out of those 64 winners in 48 categories were selected, including 83 finalists. One-third of all entries were in fiction categories. Usually the New Mexico Book Co-op celebrates the winners and finalists with an awards banquet in Albuquerque. Due to the pandemic there will be no banquet, however, the entire list of all winners and finalists is up for the public to see on the co-op’s website at nmbookcoop.com.

Here are the winning books for New Mexico and Arizona:

Best New Mexico Book: “Fire Ghosts,” by Philip Metcalf and Patricia Galagan. The nature book covers the wildfire of 2011 in the Jemez Mountains that burned 158,753 acres of forest. Galagan and Metcalf watched the Las Conchas fire burn for more than a month. When the roads reopened both went in to document the devastation with their media of choice: Photography. For more than seven years the photographers were “compelled” to document the aftermath and changes that go beyond smoke, flame and charred wood to find beauty after devastation.

Listed as contributors are Craig D. Allen, a specialist in system dynamics with the U.S. Geological Survey; William deBuys, a conservationist and author of eight books, including “A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest; Katherine Ware, curator of photography at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art.

“Fire Ghosts,” is only available in hardcover at online shops, including the giftshop of Pajarito Environmental Education Center. For more information, visit peecnature.org or email a.lusher@peecnature.org.

Best Arizona Book: “Coyote Alibi,” by J. and D. Burges. The fiction is a series starter for the husband and wife team co-authoring the book, that was published in 2018. Though set in a landscape similar to Tony Hillerman’s mysteries, “Coyote Alibi” takes a lighthearted approach while still honoring Navajo culture. A would-be paralegal, and her attorney boss take on the case of an alleged murderer whose unpopular husband found an early, violent end. The story plays in the mid-1980s, in Sage Landing, Arizona, which is a fictitious tiny town near a Navajo reservation. The book is available as eBook, audiobook and in paperback from all online providers. For more information, visit jdburges.com.